BANGKOK - Mobile data usage in Thailand has surged since a military coup last month as Thais swap information and search the Internet for reliable news, providing an unexpected boon to network operators hit by depressed consumption.
Data usage spiked on the day of the coup, May 22, and the day after, and usage remains high as the military rows back on threats to restrict social media.
The outlook for Thailand's mobile operators will further improve in the second half as the military junta running the country implements economic reforms to restore confidence after months of political turmoil, according to analysts.
Yingluck Shinawatra was prime minister until May 7, when a court found her guilty of abuse of power and she stepped down. The army toppled the remnants of her government on May 22, saying it needed to restore order after bursts of deadly protests since November brought the economy close to recession.
The military government said it has moved quickly to pay billions of dollars in arrears owed to rice farmers by the state.
"Second-half earnings should be much higher than the first after farmers got paid under the rice-buying scheme and they will have more money to spend including buying new phones," said Chatchai Jindarat, an analyst at Maybank Kim Eng Securities.
Almost everyone has a mobile phone in Thailand and data services are driving revenue growth for operators at a time when revenue from voice service has slowed.
Nearly 40 million phones are used to access the Internet, with many users turning to chatting via social media and messaging apps rather than calls.
Facebook is the most popular social media in Thailand with 24 million users, and 21 million access it on their phone. Instant messaging service Line has about 24 million users in Thailand, its second-largest market after Japan.
Advanced Info Service Pcl (AIS), the country's largest mobile operator, said data usage on its network was 30 per cent higher than normal immediately after the coup, while voice usage jumped 40 per cent.
The second-largest mobile operator, Total Access Communication (TAC), saw a 25 per cent jump in data usage on its network.
AIS, 21 per cent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd , has nearly 50 per cent of the Thai mobile market. TAC, controlled by Norway's Telenor, has about 30 per cent.